Adapted from the cult show from the 70s, The Sweeney is a police drama about testosterone filled tough as nails police, who ignore the rules and get hassled by the ones behind desks who’ll only get in the way. Except now in 2012, and with far higher production values, maybe the new Sweeney is a bit too slick to convincingly have Ray Winstone repeating “You’re Nicked!”
Flying Squad detectives Jack Regan (Winstone) and George Carter (Ben Drew) investigate a jewellery store heist that ended in murder. The stakes continue to rise, as the squad’s violent methods place it under heavy scrutiny from Internal Affairs.
The Sweeney evoked a down and dirty impression; yet this new version is stylish and cinematic, so can’t manage to also be especially sordid. The Flying Squad will swear at and attack people on the streets, before then going off to their huge clean office; filled with glass, shiny computers and gadgets. It looks more akin to a new Apple store, which doesn’t really fit the Sweeney aesthetic. There is a strong focus on London, but it’s presented so similarly to Gotham City, as seen in The Dark Knight; with a gunmetal blue colour scheme and numerous nighttime skyline shots. It’s bizarre to think of a real life city ripping off a fictional one. The action itself though is pretty good; it’s interesting to see gunfights taking place around actual areas of London and not merely sets. Trafalgar Square does take some collateral damage.
Winstone and Drew can convincingly deliver the lines; Winstone could probably do the street-smart tough guy stuff blindfolded now, however it’s Winstone’s Regan romancing a much younger lady that really distracts. John Thaw’s Regan did do all right for himself; it’s just weird seeing a half-naked Winstone getting intimate, age-gap be damned. There’s a subplot about Regan being a relic from police eras past that’s interesting; unfortunately it doesn’t go anywhere. Perhaps Drew is lacking the acting talents required, but his Carter can’t offers much and is never particularly engaging. You frequently get told of his character’s qualities, yet onscreen you’re shown little of what he can do beyond brutal violence. And he doesn’t have Winstone’s charm either.
It’s doubtful that this update will be remembered nearly as fondly as the original. The television show may be a bit dated, though at least it was of its time once. The new Sweeney never resolves whether it’s grimy drama or slick picturesque action; and being set in London of today, too much now appears suspect and unbelievable. It’s a delicate balance and it fails to smoothly achieve either. Maybe it simply works better as a more quickly and cheaply made show for television.
- Jon Bartholomew